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Another sign of spring: hungry bears

Special to the Union Leader

March 15. 2012 11:17PM

On Wednesday, some crows pecked at last year's leavings in a farmer's field on the West Side Road in Conway. Later that evening, near Red Eagle Pond on Passaconaway Road in Albany, a skunk waddled along a dirty snowbank, and farther up the road, two deer fed on the patchy lawn outside a vacant house.

The wildlife in the White Mountains is getting more active, and in some cases, waking up early after a short winter's nap. That means hungry black bears are on the move and will, just like growing teenagers, go after any food available. For those teens, that's fast-food outlets. For bears, it's birdfeeders.

To avoid turning a yard into a fast-food stop for bears, take down birdfeeders now. The warning from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department comes more than two weeks before the April 1 date usually set for removing bird feeders.

'It's been an odd year for bears,' says Andrew Timmins, Bear Project leader for Fish and Game. 'Bears remained very active during December and early January. In late January, multiple calls came in reporting bears washing around homes feeding on dropped wild apples and birdseed. Also, we experienced a phenomenal beechnut crop last fall. Bears fed heavily in beech groves into December and likely will again this spring. These nuts will provide bears an important food source this spring for a month or two.'

This holds true even for the White Mountains where - though the snow pack wasn't deep - there was snow for most of the winter, some of which remains in the higher elevations and the deeper woods. It is not logical to think that bears could sleep through the abundant sunshine and warm temperatures (unlike human teenagers, who have no problem doing so).

Fish and Game also advises New Hampshire residents to remove other temptations for bears, including household garbage and pet food dishes. It's good practice, too, to avoid putting out meat and other food scraps on your compost pile, at least for now.

'The surest way to prevent bear/human conflicts is to keep your yard free of attractants, but you may need to take additional steps to protect items that can't be removed. For example, metal trash bins should have a locking metal top that prevents access by bears, and beehives and livestock should be protected with an electric fence. To avoid bear-related conflicts, prevent bears from visiting and, most of all, from getting in the habit of finding food on your property,' Timmins advised.

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